A.J. Walker


The Very Wobbly Odyssey

Hoping to be back at work over the next couple of weeks. My head’s been a bit mashed for the some of the last six weeks with the out of nowhere medical issues. Have done some flash writing, such as Miranda’s #MidWeekFlash, and a bit of blogging, but nothing more substantial during these weeks. Have been trying to keep active in terms of steps and all that, but not got into writing more substantial pieces. If the whole staying at home thing hadn’t been because of head mashing diagnoses and issues then I could have written more, couldn’t I?

Miranda's #MidWeekFlash

As I’m nearing the end of being off and the doctor's appointments have been more positive than the inevitable early fear that hangs over you in Limboland then I've become I’m more up than down: and writing for more than 500 words seems more doable. One of the things I long to do is finish one of my two NaNoWriMo drafts: I’ve two partially written novels from previous NaNo years. Both are around two thirds or more complete. For my own balance I need to finish at least one novel length book this year and if I can work on one one of these two stories it is very doable. Even if a) it’s just the first draft and b) it never sees the light of day other than to a few mates.

But it’s not just a case of starting from where I finished. Well it is, obviously, in some ways. But these are several years old and at this point may as well have been written by somebody else. Going back to where they are finished it feels like trying to start from the last chapter you’ve read from of any famous author's book. Like starting from scratch...ish - or at least starting a race in a different car and not knowing the track.

To that end I have been rereading my second NaNo story, which is currently called "
The Wobbly Odyssey", to get back into the zone so I can (at least try) and hit the ground running. It’s been really interesting. I like how the story has gone so far but dropping on to it now it would be so easy to take the story a rather random way and get the characters acting out of character from what's been presented so far.

Other than some geography nothing much about the story was planned. It’s been very much a "pantser" exercise. Maybe it’s just a bit more so now.

The current story is at
56k words and up to Chapter 6.5 of an anticipated 11 or so. I’m estimating there’s about 30-35k words to go to finish. If I set myself to do 1600-2000 words a day that’s only three weeks or so. So no excuse, A.J. Walker. Get writing and get it done: at the very least I want to know how the story ends!

Onwards and Upwards.

A Reading From 'The Ormering Tide'

I accidentally made a rod for my own back for this one. In a potentially throw-away tweet I said that 'The Ormering Tide' was so beautiful I felt like I should be reading it aloud rather than reading it to myself. I think maybe that morning I hadn't had my second coffee by the time of the tweet and wasn't fully awake. I was certainly very much in the #ReadMeSpeakMe way in any case. Anyway's I ended up saying I'd read the prologue aloud after I had my haircut sorted.

So true to my promise this is the Prologue to the lovely book by Kathryn Williams.

Follow Kathryn on Twitter and get into her music, her art or her books - or all of it.


Get yourself a signed copy of 'The Ormering Tide' at Forum Books:



Got a Haircut for the ReadMeSpeakMe Party


This week was the 3rd Anniversary of ReadMeSpeakMe which meant it was party week. As I said last week I wasn't going to do RMSM until I had my hair cut - as the barbers finally were allowed loose with their scissors on Monday 12th April. Huzzah. My last haircut was in the first week of November so I'd gone fully five months - and some - between cuts. Even if RMSM wasn't having a party, getting a cut felt like I deserved one. Happy days.

Before the Haircut

I'd got on the 17 from Fazakerley full of hope if not expectation. As it happened I managed to get in the barbers I've used for the last three cuts (which lets face it is most of a year now):
Istanbul Barbers on Dale Street. It didn't require booking or anything so strange for us of the 'boy' persuasion. Just turn up and wait in turn.

All light headed: Haircut after shock!

With haircut done there were three things to do 1) see if I can get in the other newly permissible places (pubs) 2) attend the #ReadMeSpeakMe Party and 3) do a reading of the prologue from Kathryn Williams' 'The Ormering Tide.'

Outdoor Beers

I managed to do 1) pretty much off the bat with being one of the first two getting a beer at the
Dispensary and also being one of the first served at the Coach House (Hard Times). Read the blog on Pubs to find out more on my feelings about this and on pubs in general.

ReadMeSpeakMe Party

Next up, a few days later, has been attending the
ReadMeSpeakMe Party. The call was to read a recipe for food or drink. Well as I always have a beer with my wee recordings then it had to beer really for the party. Unfortunately from a reading perspective four basic ingredients didn't make for compelling reading:

Malt Barley

It'd be short and sweet, which may have its attractions but it ain't suitable for our party.

Anyways whilst I was reading a book about alcoholic drinks, '
Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks' jam packed with great recipes and details, I found the first part of a poem about beer written by Thomas Warton in 1750. Two hundred and seventy years ago and they were still extolling the virtues of a nice pint over the, 'Riot stirring wine. Unwholesome draught!'

RMSM Invite
#ReadMeSpeakMe 3rd Anniversary Party Invite

Thomas Warton was an Oxford Don lecturing and writing on poetry and became the Poet Laureate for a time. He liked his beer and smoking too. Cool poetry dude. So I decided I'd read the first section of his '
Panegyric to Ale' (originally 'Oxford Ale').

The Ormering Tide

So that was 2 of 3 sorted. The third part I had pencilled in to do was a short reading from '
The Ormering Tide.' Kathryn Williams, who hails from Liverpool, is a brilliant singer-songwriter who I last saw her perform on her Anthology Tour at the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Rooms. She performed some great songs and told some excellent anecdotes. I couldn't not buy her book when it came our this year. When I tweeted it was so lovely that I felt like I should be reading it aloud rather than to myself she tweeted back 'Do It' (although I may be paraphrasing there). So I have to, don't I?

'The Ormering Tide' by Kathryn Williams

Hope I can do justice. But hey, I'm ain't a professional. It's a beautiful book and I loved every page. I can wholeheartedly recommend you getting into the Tide and finding yourselves on the cliffs or beaches of the Channel Islands - or even in the pub. You won't regret it. And don't miss listening to some of her songs. Like all the best people Kathryn is on Twitter too @kathwilliamsuk so give her a follow.

Kathryn Williams 'Monday Morning' from Crown Electric

I will record my reading of the prologue tomorrow and get it up on the YouTube thing - I bet you can't wait. Watch this space: or better still just listen to some of Kathryn's songs.

Pubs Pubs Pubs: Closed/ Outside/ Inside

Pubs. Pubs. Pubs. Closed pubs - outside pubs - inside pubs. God, they are such an integral part of my life. It’s not a daily thing or anything like that. And it’s not bad ones - these days anyway. No, it’s real ale pubs. I suppose many youngsters would call them “old men’s pubs”. Hell sometimes I do too. Generally though it’s just pubs that sell real ale. Ale on hand pulls. So the last year has been a wee bit disappointing on that front.

They’ve been closed several times over this pandemic year. The last time they were open the rules rather (completely) arbitrarily required you bought a main meal with your drink. Like the virus would go for you if you didn’t have a burger, but would avoid you if you did. Ludicrous ill thought out concept. Of course at one point that was partly in conjunction with the “
Eat Out to Help Out” idea too. I’m sure there were good intentions there somewhere. But maybe not much in the way of thought.

During those strangely open/not really open time I was out every so often. And asking questions of whether the guy or gal serving me thought a) was a plate of chips classed as a “substantial meal” and b) how slowly could I eat them from a legal perspective i.e. could I get in two or three pints with one plate of chips. Nonsense of course. If you watch any "end of the world" dystopia films there’s never been a scene in it when people are seeing how little they could eat in order to get a pint in. But hell, it was dystopian.

One step closer to normality. So close but so far.

That ended on the run up to New Year when the pubs were closed for the next lockdown. And here we are over three months later before they could open again. This time the requirement for eating with your drink has been removed. Instead the rule is that you can only drink outside a pub. With April weather that is full on roulette territory. On April 12th this limited opening came in, with the next change pencilled in for May 17th. At that point the inside of pubs can open, but still with restrictions like the ‘rule of six’/two household thing and such like. The unrestricted opening is lightly HB pencilled in for June 21st. Oh my, how good that will be?

As I say, I like pubs and pubs and pubs. It’s a social and aesthetic thing. Drinking at home for me doesn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong I do buy beer regularly. It’s just that I’m more inclined to have one or two bottles or cans rather than the pintage I would get to whilst out and about. I’ve lost weight during this pandemic and that’s partly down to work being mad but I mainly down to fewer beers passing my lips and getting to my hips.

First pint up was an Oakham 'Citra' at the Dizzy

Ale for me is very much a mix of the taste of the stuff, the environment and the people I’m drinking with - including the sometimes fabulous staff (hey, I'm not gonna say they all are). Maybe the ale will get me drunk, or happy - or into whatever mood it wants to get me to - on a particular day, but getting drunk is not the be all and end all for me. I’d rather read a few chapters of a book with a couple of pints in one place, then chat to someone in another place, than get drunk. If I just wanted that I’d be happily drinking cheap plonk or vodka at home and not going for mini pub crawls in town. It would be less hassle too without messing about with buses.

But no, for me, having a pint is about going on a wee pub crawls to take in various beers available in different places and seeing a few people. I’m quite happy whether I meet people I know well or not: happy to do a spot of a people watching with the best of them. Most real ale drinkers I know prefer to visit three or four pubs on a night out rather than go to one. But flexibility is key. After all if the first pub you’re in has your favourite beer on and some of your fave people in then there’s no need to roll that dice for the next place. Like going to a music festival you've got to enjoy where you're at and not worry about what you're missing.

Not so Hard Times at the Coach House with a Neptune 'Mosaic'

Can’t wait to get back to doing a few mini crawls. The Fly, Roscoe Head, Dispensary, and Grapes. Oh yeah! Then there’s the Lion, Rigby’s, Denbigh Castle, Excelsior, and the Ship. Or how about Baltic Fleet, Bridewell, Head of Steam, Hard Times, Belvedere, and the Caledonia. Or how about the… well you get the picture.

We’re going to have to wait until June until we can do these properly. The May reopening will be constrained in terms of numbers and therefore the ability to wander between pubs and expecting to get in. I mean the demand for the Grapes... it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Right now the reopening this week has allowed pubs with outdoors to give it a go. For city centres this means many pubs can’t even try or those that can have severely limited options for customers. In Liverpool many of the best pubs will not be reopening until May.

I made it to a couple on Monday after first getting a rather crucial haircut. First up was a pint of
Oakham 'Citra' sat outside the Dispensary, which had a nice circularity to me. My last pub pint was in the Dizzy between Christmas and New Year where I was rung at 7:30pm in the pub by my GP to be told to go to A&E to get an MRI scan; it was not the usual night out. As it happened I wasn’t to get an MRI for another couple of months. I’d had to eat a portion of Scouse with my drink that time, this time no food was needed - but a coat was definitely required: the early afternoon sun doesn’t get to the outdoor area. Brrrrr.

A pint in the sunshine at Hard Times

Second pub up was the Coach House. I’d seen the managers working on it on Saturday when I walked into town. I’d sat outside with them in the cold - without a beer. I suppose it was a dry run. It’s the third name for the place and like anyone I dare say I’ll stick with the original name: Hard Times & Misery. In between it was called Dickens and King. They’ve created a nice seating area outside and I think the capacity out there is more than inside the place. I was one of the first customers and it became busy in no time - but not overly so with the whole rule of six thing at the tables and all that. Had Neptune ‘Mosaic’ on which meant nice options all around - especially as there was sunshine on me too.

Hotch having bar snacks - even though now they aren't a requirement of entry (beware those sharp teeth)

Met some people I knew and chatted to some I didn’t too (and met a puppy I’ll see again over the coming years). It was great. But it’s not normality yet. It won’t be until all the pubs and bars are open and you can get inside without significant restrictions. I can’t wait. Though I rather suppose I must. Roll on June 21st -
HB pencil notwithstanding.

Last Zoom Open Mic?

We last had a Zoom Open Mic on New Years Eve, which is apparently about three months ago but definitely feels like a year or so. At the time we said it’d be a regular event especially with the lockdown which just arrived the day before. As it happened it did not become a regular thing at all. I’m out of the loop as I don’t have Facebook so I miss the chat about it and get a handle on whether it’s almost taken place a couple of times or not. And can’t really help in the organisation of it if I don’t have FB.

Finally last Saturday we did have our first Open Mic of the year. And hopefully the last one to be done using Zoom - if the lockdowns have finally worked their stuff along with the vaccinations. In theory the pubs will reopen indoors from May 17th, although events like the Open Mic won’t be permitted until another month or so after that (21st June). Fingers crossed for that.

The Open Mic was accompanied by a good portion of a mini keg of Mosaic that I’d picked up at Neptune Brewery the day before. I took the keg out the fridge and brought it into the spare room so I didn’t need to go up and down all the time to top my glass. Certainly helped with getting through a few pints.

Cloud Mosaic
Cloud Strife watching over the Neptune Mosaic

In the end I was on the Zoom call from about 7:45 through to 1.00am. So it wasn’t much of a wonder that a few beers were breached.

As it happened there were quite a few missing regulars, who’d kind of indicated that they would/may be there but didn’t turn up. It was a bit of a shame really not to see everyone’s familiar faces - and hear their songs. There were only three of us playing songs using guitar or keyboards, and Matt telling us stories. I only sang four songs as if I’d done any more I’d have felt like I was taking it over a bit. I’d have happily sung six or seven if others had been doing the same. Never mind.

Open Zoom
Not many of us online this time. Think there some good repeat on the telly.

I sang Chuck Prophet’s ‘Somewhere Down the Road,’ Ryan Adam’s ‘Sweet Carolina,’ Bright Eyes ‘Landlocked Blues’ and Barenaked Ladies ‘It’s All Been Done.’

It was good to see the familiar faces that were there - on what may be the last weekend of the year that we couldn’t be in (or at least outside) a pub. Roll on the next Open Mic: wherever and whenever it may be. It’ll be a while, I dare say, but it will be fucking great.

A Most Difficult Hunt

I’m on the lookout for a new job. But it’s a bit difficult not knowing at this stage what I want to be when I grow up. How do all you guys do it?

I’ve been too long away from my time as an Environmental Scientist really to get back into that. Unless maybe it was on a project by project basis (or auditing). Can’t see it happening. I enjoyed report writing and reviewing - and the fact that every job was different. The management side less so, especially during trying and pressurised times.

I’ve being doing delivery driving for a few years now, which has its positives and negatives. But Amazon have been pushing more and more deliveries on to drivers over this last year. It’s basically been like Xmas every week since last March: but Xmas without any bonus. They have been wearing younger guys than me out at a ridiculous rate. At least at Xmas you can see a light at the end of the tunnel as it's just four or five weeks of madness. There’s no upside currently. I could definitely write a good blog or four about working as an Amazon driver. But I’ll have to wait until I’ve finished there and want to burn any bridges. At the moment whilst I’ve got an eye out for something else, but don’t have anything, I’m still planning to work for them - needs must.

I do need to find another job locally. Preferably something enjoyable - at least at times. I know not what though. It really is hard to look for a job when you don’t have a specific aim. I dare say I'll need a variety of CVs skewed to what I may apply for. Wonder where I’ll end up? Later in the year I may need to look at retraining, but as what? There’s only so many web designers or copy editors needed out there. It’s all so up in the air: like going for a hunt not knowing what is out there and what equipment you may require.

In the interim I’ll get a lottery ticket if I remember.

It's Alchemy I Tell Ya

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and I didn't get any Sunday roast sorted or a single egg, but I did end up with a couple of beers and I did get the weekly #ReadMeSpeakMe sorted too, so I had my now traditional Sunday then.

I'd intended to walk into Liverpool to get my daily steps in and take the opportunity to pick up a couple of bottles of something. Always good to kill two birds with one stone. Thanks to my far too aggressive addiction to Twitter though I spotted that
Top Rope Brewery, which is based in Bootle, was open for a few hours. My plans were basic and flexible - the result obvious. I duly went of to Top Rope and picked up three different beers: 'The Road to Helles,' 'Papa Mango' and 'Big Simcoe.' Better than anything I'd have picked up in Sainsburys or Lidl by an infinite distance.

Plenty of choice available at 'Top Rope' today

At Top Rope Brewery. I am smiling. Really.

Had a nice chat with Neil and the team and took a few photos before packing away my beer. Of course I still had my steps to get in and being in Bootle the obvious next stop was the coast for a walk on the beach. I headed to Waterloo by South Road and then to the beach and a stroll around the Anthony Gormley installation 'Another Place.' Been there so many times. But its always a lovely walk with the sea and the weather making it like a dynamic art installation. It's cool. I thought it would be busy and it was quite but it wasn't as bad as anticipated. The weather was sunny but there was a brisk breeze off the sea and it was a bit cooler than it had been. We're at the start of a cold snap apparently.

Me and my mate, Tony

Tony looking thoughtfully out towards Ireland

With a bit more reading in the eveningI didn't get round to doing the Read Me Speak Me until late: after Line of Duty But I always try and do it on the Sunday; though not next week (haircut week starts Monday 12th). The poem for Read Me Speak Me No.137 was '
Alchemy' by Syreeta Muir. If you are on Twitter you can find her on @hungryghostpoet

No need to 'Run to the Helles'

ReadMeSpeakMe 137: 'Alchemy' by Syreeta Muir - preceded by 5 minutes rambling about Top Rope beers, a walk in Crosby, and a deceased Wilco t-shirt

I was glad to get it done. Although I'm conscious I did waffle on even more than usual. Think I may need to set a timer next time.

Alchemy recorded. Now to get it on to YouTube.

I loved Syreeta's poem. A great read. It was a tad coincidental that I ended up being in Crosby today as Syreeta used to live there. Spooky! Don't forget to follow
@ReadMeSpeakMe on Twitter too.

Doing the Loop

Living in the north of Liverpool walking options with nice vistas or architecture are decidedly limited. If you are trying to walk daily do you really want to circle the same park multiple times just to have a nice environment? It would get a bit much to walk the same walk all the time. I’ve been walking to and around Walton Hall Park quite regularly lately. And it’s nice enough, but it’s nice to switch it up.

From the direction I come from I walk under an old rail bridge and enter the park at the corner beside it. The bridge, over the East Lancs road, is part of the old Loop Line. Like so many railways in the 60s it closed down (in 1964). The way it sweeps from the south from Hunts Cross north to Aintree it in some ways mimics the Queens Drive circular (or quarter circle in reality). It has been turned it to a footpath/cycle way which forms part of several routes. Work started on the path in 1988 with the last section by Aintree finished in 2000.

Walking on the Loop Line (remain vigilant for bikes when taking selfies)

Part of the northern section (which I am yet to visit) goes through railway land where I used to walk with my grandparent’s dog, Patches, in the 1970s. There’s probably a blue plaque for that somewhere there.

Anyway, on Friday I went for a walk starting at home with no real plan of where I would end up. But I did think I’d take a look at the Loop. Really glad I did. Makes such a refreshing change in North Liverpool walking around so much greenery and away from busy roads or housing estates. I kept walking and walking, eventually getting to a point where it would have been as far to walk back as it would to finish the whole thing. Of course I could have got off somewhere and worked out how to get (multiple) buses home. It was lovely day though, the sun was out, there were lots on people on bikes and a running event. It was Good Friday.

Platforms at West Derby Station

It was lovely to see the trees and greenery, to see the sandstone cuttings of the railway and the old station and platforms at West Derby. In the end I got to Hunts Cross which was a 9.2 mile walk from my house without getting hit by any of the bike riders (although there were a couple of close calls) or runners (many of who were running at my walking pace). Pretty good few hours.

West Derby Station

The age old problem with linear walks of course is getting back. From the end of the walk it would be a minimum of three buses (as far as I could tell on maps) or a train and a bus. I went for the latter option as a train was just due in as I got to the station. A train to Liverpool Central and then a No.17 back. Sorted. When planning (or in this case not planning) a walk the time built in to get back is potentially important. All in all that 9 miles with transport back took me around 4 hours, which is a fair chunk of anyone’s day. But it was a Bank Holiday: and it was definitely worth it. I’ll be in the Loop again soon. I'll have to do the bit to the north too at some point. It's shorter than going to Hunts Cross and while I wouldn't anticipate it being as nice an area to walk I can turn the walk into a circular and save on the wait for trains and buses.

The path is long (just under 11 miles from start to finish). Rare is the moment there's no-one around.


Subsequent to doing the walk I read some things about it online. The path forms part of the National Cycle Network - Route 62. The whole route goes from Fleetwood to Selby. That would take a few pairs of socks. The worst thing I read was that in 2012, somewhere near where I got onto the walk by Walton Hall Park, a body was found on the embankment by a dog walker. The body was of a missing woman, Paula Hounslea and the murderer has never been found. The case remains open. I only want to find bluebells, crocuses, butterflies, and mushrooms, please. No bodies.

Reading: One Quarter In

My upwardly mobile target of reading 42 books this year is so far on track - with me having read twelve books by the end of March. Helped by some shortish books but also by good stories that have grabbed me. I’ve very much enjoyed a couple of series of books, including the ‘Hadrian’s Gate’ series (6 books... and counting) by Georgia Knight, and ‘Final Dawn’ (3 books) by T.W.M. Ashfield.

'Unstoppable' - the sixth of the Hadrian's Gate series, by Georgia Knight

'The Final Dawn' - the first of the Trilogy - by T.W.M. Ashford

And talking of series there’s the second book of Mark A. King’s ‘Mother of Exiles’ and the third book of Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ to be read over the coming month or so. And at some point - worryingly - the remainder of the 'Hellicona' books by Brian Aldiss.

Mother of Exiles (Part 2 & 3) by Mark A. King

My current read is
L.V. Matthews ‘The Prank’ which I’m over half way through and thoroughly enjoying. Just goes to show that not every book of mine has to be set on another planet or in an alternate reality - or needs to be part of a series. Either that or it shows there are always exceptions to every rule.

'The Prank' - by L.V. Matthews (a standalone book: not set in space)

So my reading is progressing well. Next up is my
writing goals: and achieving them. That may well be more difficult; who am I kidding? Of course it will be.